On my way to the Farmer’s Market this morning I got two lessons in lane positioning, i.e. why it’s good to take a commanding lane position. For me, this usually means a default position of riding down the center of the right tire track depending upon the width of the lane. That positioning puts me slightly to the right of the center of the lane in full compliance with Missouri law.
Lesson #1: I went north on Fremont to go to an ATM before heading south on Fremont to the market. There are no lane markings on this section of Fremont — a fairly narrow, 30-mph collector street. By positioning myself in the right tire track, I have command of the right side of the road, and I am about four feet from the curb.
A silver SUV approached me from behind traveling somewhat faster than 30 mph. The person was obviously important — his time being far more valuable than anyone else’s safety on the road. Approaching from the other lane was a large, boxy truck. And a vehicle driver was waiting at a stop sign to turn right heading south.
That means the SUV driver, in order to pass me, had to move to the left and face both the truck and the right-turning car (you get one guess which way that car driver was probably looking). But given the narrowness of the road and the two potential head-on crashes, this guy chose to squeeze by me — passing easily within 3 feet of me.
I saw this whole thing setting up. My move: Hold my position in command of my side of the road. At no time did I feel in danger. The people in danger were the drivers of the right-turning car and the truck because they were apparently unaware just how freaking important this guy was.
I did not feel like I was in danger because I had somewhere to go. I had four feet of space to my right. If I had needed to bail out, I would have had plenty of room to jump that curb if necessary — meaning I could have gotten the bicycle turned so that I could have controlled my exit from the road — even with a curb.
Had I been hugging the gutter, the SUV driver would have still squeezed me, but I would have had no options. None. Hitting that curb sideways would likely have kicked me back into traffic where I might have then been struck by the SUV.
Lesson #2: On the way south to the market, Fremont is a 2-lane road with center stripe. At Sunshine it becomes a 3-lane road with narrow outside lanes. A guy riding a track bike was behind me until we crossed Sunshine. He passed me a short distance later.
I could see him in my mirror hugging the gutter. I was happy that he chose to pass me on the left. I’ve had guys riding expensive track and road bikes pass me on the right before.
What I saw after he passed me was no surprise at all. Car drivers passed me by pulling substantially into the center lane giving me, in most cases, at least 4-feet of space. The very same cars then squeezed by the track-bike dude remaining substantially in the narrow lane.
Well, he was inviting them to do so by riding so far to the right (actually skimming the seam between the asphalt road and the concrete gutter — yikes!). I’ll bet we would have very different descriptions of our ride on Fremont this morning:
Me: Conflict free! Just another easy ride to the market.
Gutter-hugging track-bike dude: Springfield drivers pass too close! We need bike lanes!
Take a look at this graphic by Keri Caffrey of Commute Orlando. It shows the results of a study by Dan Gutierrez and Brian DeSousa of lane position and resulting passing distance (click image to see full size).
When I first took the LAB Road One class a few years ago, I thought I knew it all — or most of it anyway. I took the class to write about it for this blog. I ended up learning a lot.
When I took CyclingSavvy this spring in St. Louis, I intended to become an instructor. Isn’t someone intending to be an instructor kinda in the know-it-all camp? I ended up learning a lot.
When I took the CyclingSavvy instructor training, I intended to someday teach this curriculum and, thereby, have at least some credential as a traffic cycling expert. I ended up learning a lot.
(I generally resist claims of expertise — even in my academic field. Why? Ask me about the parachute video and the “complacency of expertise” next time we meet.)
I will be co-teaching the first CyclingSavvy class in Springfield (for lady bicycle drivers) on 9/30 and 10/1. I expect to learn a lot.
If anyone wants to have a more conflict-free experience on Springfield’s roads, contact me about CyclingSavvy. I don’t care who you are or how long you’ve been riding a bicycle; you’ll learn a lot.